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April 28, 2006

Got plans for May Day?

Chris Kromm wonders why so few lefty bloggers are talking about the No Work, No School, No Sales, and No Buying-day to support immigrant rights on May 1:

What's going on? Why is the progressive blogosphere so completely out of touch? Is it because most of them closely identify with partisan politics, and the Democratic Party doesn't have a very clear position on the immigration issue? Is it due to a racial blindspot in the blogosphere, connected to its demographic make-up (and yes, I know Markos at DKos hails from El Salvador; I'm talking about the larger reality)? Do they not understand the historic nature of this movement?

Good question. Personally, I haven't said much about immigration issues because I don't know very much about progressive immigration policy alternatives.

I think that Chris's hypotheses are all plausible. I'm sure that racial, geographical, linguistic, and institutional factors contribute to the relatively low profile of immigration issues in the lefty blogosphere. However, I doubt that big liberal bloggers are deliberately shying away from this subject because of divisions in the Democratic Party.

I think the biggest stumbling block is that liberal bloggers get most of their raw material from the mainstream media, supplemented by direct PR outreach from interest groups. I've found my way onto at least 50 different mailing lists through blogging, none of them having to do with immigration.

In lieu of a conclusion, I'd like to solicit readers' opinions about the best resources for progressive immigration policy.


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No resources, but some thoughts:

One problem is the constant conflation, by both the media and immigration rights activists, of legal and illegal immigration. So it's difficult to take any position without someone (deliberately or not) misconstruing.

Another problem is that I did not see, during the demonstrations, immigration rights supporters offering a coherent argument why either a) legal immigration should be expanded, or b) illegal immigrants should be given some kind of amnesty. Every single statement I heard was along the lines "Well, I'm here, and it's nice, so I think they should be allowed to come here too."

Some Europeans I know (here on work visas and green cards) resent illegals. Their attitude is "I jumped through the hoops and spent the money to do this legally...why should anyone else get away with doing it differently." (My European friends do not understand how Race works in this country or how it is an issue wrt immigration.)

I should add that my answers to the questions I posed in the second paragraph are that a) without some kind of expanded leagal immigration, the illegal kind will continue, with its attendant ills, and b) short of mass deportation, some kind of amnesty seems to be the only solution, though I would support some kind of penalty to acknowledge that they did commit a crime.

I also think that to help legalize our guest workers (or whatever you want to call them) we would need to get much more serious about punishing employers who employ people who are not here legally.

"Some Europeans I know (here on work visas and green cards) resent illegals."

I know you qualified this as 'some', but I'm still bothered by the fact that so many conflate 'illegal' immigration with Mexicans and other Latinos.

I personally know many so-called 'illegals' that are not here from 'South of the Border'.

Also I apologize for not responding in more depth about this issue, though I grapple with some of the myriad issues on a daily basis in my career. Maybe after a good night's sleep I can.

Maybe I can point some of my students to this post, and let them respond for themselves.

If you're in Salem, Oregon, I'll see you at the Rally on Monday.

Some images here.

I have a very complex theory for why you don't see a lot of support for these issues in the liberal blogosphere. Ready?

Immigration policy is really, really hard. I used to be an RA for a professor who had worked on immigration issues in the last White House, and the exposure I received to the issues of the field made the whole mess seem staggeringly difficult to figure out. The liberal blogosphere did well defending Social Security, which came down to nontrivial but still pretty concrete and manageable number-crunching and imaginative thinking. Hammering out appropriate state policy for human migration on this scale dwarfs that in terms of the complexity and the slippery nature of the principles at issue. It's always hard to figure out what exactly our concept of the state says we should expect the state to do when interests of non-citizens can be served at the expense of (some) citizens - and then even if we can figure that out, it's very difficult to come up with a smart, doable policy position. Amnesty suffers from chronic "and then what?" problems, in that it would do nothing for dealing with future immigration after the amnest period lapsed. The "compromise" proposal involved a lot of expensive and unworkable determinations about the length of time people had stayed, etc. And the Mass Deportation Wet Dream is laughably expensive - and pretty obviously xenophobia-tinged at least.

I know why I don't talk more about immigration. Because I have absolutely no fucking clue what the right thing to do is.

I'll have to second Eli's nomination -- don't really know what to make of the event, and policy-wise it's much easier for me to know what I'm really angrily opposed to than what will work the best, though Kennedy's initial proposal at least seemed reasonable.

The answer to the "problem" of immigration is the same as it was when the Wobblies addressed it; & what's called for is: One Big Union; free movement of labor, IN BOTH DIRECTIONS, across any border that permits the movement of Capital; and an end to "socialism for corporations".
Democrats are too invested in by the Big Buxx to cross them. The best they can do is to ameliorate the 'transient' discomforts of those at the losing end of this pile of woe (or at least the most vocal and articulate in the pile). As long as the "workers" are a part of a subcontracted labor operators' expertise, then the actual employers can continue to skate, ie "what? me worry?"
When it's all about the money, what's legal takes a back seat. But it isn't just about the money. It's also about the power of every person who hires an "illegal" immigrant (and especially those with little proficiency in English) that, by virtue of the legal system, you have enormous implicit power- far beyond the simple "employer-employee" relationship. You can get this person arrested- if you want. What a Fabulous position from which to negotiate! And the kicker is, if you're white, you don't have to deal with an uppity black person (who'd probably want better pay, speaks a language you may be ambivalent about hearing, and can talk politics with your children with more or less impunity). So, score one for Whitey! Massa's back in de saddle!
It all seems new, but every time a big corporate push comes along, here came the workers- from Ireland, China, the nearest reservation, wherever- and the cheaper the better. I remember finding a plaque of sorts, in the earthfill dam at Eagle Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon, calling attention to the fact that it had been built with bracero labor in 1943 ("¡Viva America! ¡Viva Mexico!..etc"), probably for ranchers down the valley- or farmers- or for flume water for a local mine- or all these things. What a change... all it took was a war economy to get the workforce moving, again- and American industry has never gotten over it (or done without it, either- for sixty-plus years).
I harvested fruit, bucked bales, harvested grain in the the intermountain West before those jobs were filled by Mexicans. I planted trees in the Winter and processed fish in the Summer along the Pacific Coast, before those jobs were filled by Mexicans, and Hmong, and Vietnamese. I don't begrudge these people their efforts any more than I would begrudge someone panning for gold in the creek in front of my house- the gravel's there, the water's there, I don't have a "Do Not.." sign nailed up anywhere.
What I see is the same pattern as Latin America taking shape here- the land-owning families (and, more & more, large corporations) are becoming the cultural islets resembling the controlling oligarchies in those places. Here, though, it may play out differently- the meek will inherit the earth, because the culture is more flexible, and still mobile, while old values persist, but dwindle. In 2002 I drove by the Catholic church where I'd been an altar boy at 12, many decades ago, in the lower Yakima Valley. The town hasn't changed much in size, and it's still about agriculture there- more grapes, these days, fewer hops and mint fields- and the "old" families were still in place. Outside the church was a gathering, a vision in brown and white- it was Spring, and "first communion" Sunday. The radiance in those faces was achingly beautiful... and there wasn't an Anglo in the bunch.
We pushed the indigenous people here into invisibility in about a 100 years... there are a few around, but not many speakers left- and not much foundation, either- salmon about gone, root harvesting grounds covered by farms. Only their berrying places, up in the national Forest, are more or less intact. They've been at it for millennia. These people whom our economic predilections and racist antipathies have favored are Indians, too, to some degree. Too much irony will just give you a headache, though... ^..^

Another problem is that I did not see, during the demonstrations, immigration rights supporters offering a coherent argument why either a) legal immigration should be expanded, or b) illegal immigrants should be given some kind of amnesty. Every single statement I heard was along the lines "Well, I'm here, and it's nice, so I think they should be allowed to come here too."

Go read Gordo's series of posts about immigration (start here and follow the links to parts 2, 3, and 4). His argumentation is very coherent - for example, he says, giving illegal immigrants amnesty is necessary to allow them to complain about abuse without fear of deportation.

"Giving illegal immigrants amnesty is necessary to allow them to complain about abuse without fear of deportation"

Quite right. And if you who are legal immigrants, naturalized citizens, or natives don't think this is your problem too, you haven't thought it through.

As long as there's a class of workers who can be mistreated with impunity, the rights of the rest of us are that much less safe.

I live in L.A., I'd love to see what would happen if all immigrants sat it out for one day. I think it's disgusting that it's the immigrants who are scapegoated and not the industries that thrive on their cheap labor.

Actually, legal immigrants have dangers, too. For example, I have a cousin who's an NYU student, and who said she wouldn't participate in the strike even though she wanted to, because the IRS could revoke her student visa and deport her.

vivo ocho millas de la frontera mexicana. vivimos juntos bien abajo aquí. trabajamos juntos, jugamos juntos, criamos a nuestros niños juntos. mi madre estaría en una clínica de reposo sin el cuidado que ella recibe de la gente a que otras desean proscribir. deseamos que Washington y Ciudad de México saldrían de nosotros solos. simplemente dejan nos sola. esta discusión entera no es nada solamente una distracción de las aplicaciones verdaderas el desastre en Iraq, incompetance en la casa blanca, corrupción en un nivel magnífico y del venal, y el jugar desvergonzado en los miedos del ignorante. otra vez, por favor, del nos deja solos.

"vivimos juntos bien abajo aquí. trabajamos juntos, jugamos juntos, criamos a nuestros niños juntos."

Who are you speaking for, Stephen? And what do you mean, "Leave us alone?" Illegal immigrants don't just stay in border towns, you know. And the fact that thousands of undocumented workers are migrating into the country isn't some "distraction."

wade: i'm speaking for myself. and the "problem" exists for many, complicated reasons. most of these folks are illegal because the laws on both sides are insane. down here we see good people being exploited by vicious smugglers and some employers who amount to little less than slavers. we see the main beneficiaries of the status quo to be corrupt politicians in mexico, guatemala, nicaragua and other countries where the governments cannot pull their faces away from the tough long enough to give their citizens even the illusion of a chance at a decent life. the "distraction" is timing. november is coming and the republicans will be wanting to talk about anything but their mismanagement, crimes, lies, and the mounting death toll in iraq. leave us alone? why not just leave us alone? you're only going to forget all of this by december.

typo, tough should be trough, like the long thing pigs eat out of.

Yeah, gotta agree with those pointing out that it's a bunch of hard questions.

There seems to be this idea floating around that since we're liberals we have to be sympathetic with every cause that can plausibly be construed as a cause of the down-trodden. I realize that illegal immigrants have it hard, and I want to help out people who have it hard...but that doesn't necessarily mean that I think it's o.k. to break immigration laws. Change 'em if they're unjust.

I know I speak for a good many liberals when I say that I'm simply confused about what policies to support in this case.

And, frankly, I'm getting a little tired of being vilified for not immediately supporting amnesty. Instead of a rational discussion of the alternatives, this issue--like so many issues we face--seems to have been reduced to a caricature--do you hate all hispanics, or do you think they should be able to cross into America with no restrictions whatsoever?

Under these conditions, I find it harder and harder to get myself to engage with this debate.

another thing to consider in the immigration debate is the law of unintended consequences. next door to us, in san diego, they built a big barrier and stepped up control at the ports of entry. the consequence, unintended, was the flow being diverted through some of the most hostile terrain imaginable. deadly desert mountains. people kept coming. they began to die. and die horribly of thirst and animal attack. they would fall, break bones, and die because they could not get to any help and help could not get to them. now, the brother of the congressman who is leading the charge for a bigger badder wall is going around the desert filling stations of water. regardless of our intentions, should the penalty for trying to achieve a better life be a horrible death in the desert? and my main point remains, this whole thing is timed to divert attention from iraq and other issues of total failure by the republicans in congress and the white house. don't let them distract, don't let them pander to fear. when they say "illegal alien" shout "blood and oil and corruption."


You might check out these links:

Derechos Humanos (focus on Tucson and Southern AZ)

National Organizers Alliance (Union links)

Immigrant Solidarity Network

National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights


I'll look for you at the rally.


Thanks for the plug.

Winston Smith--

A few key facts:

US population growth, including all types of immigration, is only 0.9% per year. That's much lower than most periods of US history.

The rate of growth of Mexican immigration is slowing, and rapidly nearing a long-term sustainable rate.

The rate of immigration from Mexico is virtually independent of the number of work permits issued. The factors that drive immigration from Mexico are Mexican population growth (with a ~20 year delay), and the Mexican poverty rate.

The birthrate in Mexico has been declining sharply since 1975, and the poverty rate is half of its level in 1994 (back to pre-NAFTA levels).

The biggest reason that the number of illegal immigrants exploded was that Clinton cut the number of green cards issued during a period of sharply increased immigration (due to the Mexican currency crisis, also partly Clinton's fault). The policy of creating illegal immigration by limiting legal immigration continues to this day.


Deporting 11 million people is simply not an option. First of all, many have American-born children, so you'd have to either split up families, or deport American citizens.

Rounding up and deporting that many people would mean tens of billions in direct costs, and would be only a temporary solution. We'd also have to build a 2000 mile fence, and patrol the 2000 mile border. Many billions anually in direct costs.

Taking millions of low wage workers out of the economy wouldn't result in a huge pay jump for everyone else. The demand for supervisors, clerical workers, etc., is tied to the number of blue collar workers.

Firms that have a lot of illegal employees now would produce less and have to lay off white collar workers. Those laid off workers would then get a chance to try their hand at the manual labor jobs that just became available.

Illegal immigrants have a greater impact on wages and worker's rights than immigrants with work permits. So the problems associated with illegal immigration can be ameliorated by simply issuing more green cards.

Consider this: if Oregon decided to issue just 1,000 driver's licenses for each of the next 5 years, we'd wind up with a lot of unlicensed drivers, with the attendant problems.

To solve the problem, we could build a fence on the California border and spend millions patrolling it. We could deport Californians who didn't get licenses (we couldn't, but you get my drift).

Or we could start issuing licenses to all of those who qualified, and solve 99% of the problems we'd createed for ourselves with our ass-backward policy.


81 border deaths since last Oct. 1. And summer will be worse.

but that doesn't necessarily mean that I think it's o.k. to break immigration laws. Change 'em if they're unjust.

Well, if they're unjust, then you also have to grant amnesty. After all, it's madness to say that someone who broke an unjust law, say a law prohibiting assisting slaves to escape, should be punished just on general principle.

Gordo, don't thank me for the plug. Thank the fact that your blog seems to have the best resources about immigration policy around.

I've turned the comments in Debating Immigration Policy into a link farm of sorts. It's long but there's a lot to consider and there are no easy answers. That said, I tried to come up with a new approach. Sorry for the teaser, but my second daughter just came home from the hospital, and while mom and both daughters are napping I'm trying to get a little blogging in.... How's that for addiction?!

Stephen, if we just leave you alone then good people will continue to be exploited by vicious smugglers and employers who amount to little less than slavers. Corrupt politicians will continue to profit.

I agree that the Repubs brought this issue up as a distraction, and to throw some red meat to their nativist xenophobic base. And then it hilariously blew up in their faces when it turned out that the vast majority oppose further restriction of immigration.

But now that it's on the table, why not not apply our collective intelligence and see what kinds of improvements a progressive or lefty perspective could come up with.

I disagree that it automatically follows that if a law is unjust you have to grant amnesty. There's a good deal of value to the big meta-principle (meta as far as laws go) of people having a general respect for the law apart from their belief in its "justness" in specific settings. There's also an issue of what precisely is unjust. It may be unjust to have our specific policies, but I'm not particularly convinced that anyone but a small minority thinks it's necessarily unjust to have any system of preferred and proscribed migration methods - which is to say, I don't think many people will agree that there's something inherently unjust about making the presence of some individuals in the US illegal because they've failed to comply with laws regulating their migration. Under your formulation then, Alon, whom are we obligated to give amnesty to? How do we know which handful of people would've been here legally under the "just" policy, and which would still contravene it?


The vast majority of undocumented immigrants will have rent receipts, phone bills, pay stubs, etc. to prove that they've been here for a given period (say, 5 years). If they've been employed for that long and haven't been convicted of any felonies, then I think that was a good indicator that they generally respect the law.

We have statutes of limitations for all sorts of crimes, and we manage to keep our justice system intact. Why not a statute of limitations on illegal border crossing?

And given the direct cost and cost to the economy of rounding up and deporting 11 million people, how much are you willing to spend to uphold the principle that there should be no statute of limitations for this crime?

And remember the immigrants who have American-born children. Don't we have to either split up families, allow them to stay, or be in the position of forcing American citizens to leave the country? How much respect for the law would that inspire?

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